All kinds of horses came to visit the students at Liberty Elementary School in Lexington Thursday. Fun for the kids? Certainly. But some serious academic work also was getting done.
For students, it was a chance to get up close and personal with some of the horses from the Lexington Police Department's mounted patrol. They also got to meet a 4-month-old Thoroughbred foal and listen to his heartbeat through a stethoscope; watch farriers Rob Spencer and Bryan Milewski shoe a horse; learn about miniature horses and standardbreds; and pick up some of the finer points of riding from famed former jockey Patti Cooksey.
Thursday's visit by the horses — they were brought to the school by various equine groups — marked the kickoff of "The Year of The Horse" at Liberty, which is being held in conjunction with the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games.
It's a schoolwide effort to boost writing scores by encouraging Liberty students to learn about — and then write about — horses. The program will continue throughout the school year, and students' equine writing efforts will be published early next spring.
The idea was hatched after Mary Jane Elliott, a Liberty music teacher, and Kaye Hughes, a Liberty parent, attended a workshop by the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence this summer. The session focused on ways teachers and parents could use the arts to address academic weaknesses in their schools.
"We came back and studied our school's scores, and found that our weakness is writing," Elliott explained. "Liberty kids rock at math; they rock at social studies. But writing, not so good.
"So, with the Equestrian Games coming to Lexington, we thought that if we could get our kids excited about horses, maybe we could get them to write about horses."
The Prichard Committee provided a $500 grant for the project, which the Liberty PTA matched, and plans for "The Year of the Horse" were soon off and running.
To set the stage, Liberty has been integrating equine topics into many of its special area classes.
Science teachers taught students how horses run and the science behind it. Art classes were devoted to drawing and painting horses. Drama teachers had students discuss plays that feature horses. Kindergartners and first-graders stayed busy making stick horses.
Elliott even introduced songs about horses into her music classes.
"I never imagined I could teach music and horses," she said. "But I am."
Hughes, who originally is from Alabama, said she knew next to nothing about horses until she started working on the Liberty program. She found her way to Cooksey and asked her to be a presenter at Thursday's kickoff, never realizing she had been a noted rider, she said.
"She's famous and I had no idea who she was," Hughes laughed.
Several other Liberty parents have jumped in to help launch the program.
One is horsewoman Tanya Johnson, who brought her mare, Mullen Road, and a 4-month-old foal for kids to admire at Thursday's event. Johnson has a daughter, Olivia, in kindergarten at Liberty.
"I love teaching the kids," she said. "A lot of them don't know about horses."
School officials stressed that they hope the program's real payoff will come later — in the form of better writing scores.